A Story for Our Time: Philosophical Homelessness
Living in Berkeley, I’ve been privy to homelesness in a way few other people in the world are. I see homeless people daily on the streets of downtown Berkeley, mingling with others.
While most people in the world consider homelessness to only be a social ill, the variety of ages and different experiences that I’ve encountered with homeless people in Berkely and in the Bay Area suggest that it can also be a life choice. I’ve met many backpackers who fall into the category of “homeless” and see their travelings and lack of stable reality as a real choice, rather than as a result of some failings on their part in their success in jobs or an instability with their families.
Living in High School and College surrounded by many elite people with one if not two or three mansions in different places in the Bay Area and on the East Coast, I had fear of the instability these people represented and the lack of future and pathways they seemed to have. Simultaneously, the net and bubble of the intense communities I had been a part of through a series of private schools and eccentric, esoteric communities led me to be intrigued to this state of instability as a way to disrupt the inane and stale. Through backpacking and being homeless in many ways by myself over the last two years or so (living off very little money and traveling in places like Belize and Mexico,) as well as choosing very alternative life choices, I have learned how liberating it can be to be on the edge of poverty for someone that has always been so closely guarded and held.
About two weeks ago, I went to Tilden Park in Lake Anza at about 10 PM at night. The power had gone out in this side of Berkeley that night and I had an immense urge to leave the candles of our home and do something wild. I packed up my bathing suit and with my high beams went into Tilden Park and found Lake anza, arrive there around 9:45 with a few other people parked at the lake. I went swimming in the lake, swimming until the center of the lake. In this moment, I had an acute experience of the Buddhist concept of a “Lack.” The fear I had had of homeless people all my life and the acute interest in their lifestyles that had developed in my recent years transformed into a more objective awareness of the lives they were living and the pain they had to transpire. For me, swimming across a lake in the middle of Berkeley during a power outage was the ultimate experience of being homeless and afterwards I lost both the fear and awe of what it meant to have that experience that I had had so long.
People think that being homeless is impossible but it can be a choice for some people who have to have their integrity ripped away from them, thinking here about gays and alcoholics or political differences that lead children to be outcasted from their families. But its not a viable lifestyle solution to the pains of being human in a modern day society and it remains an escapist philosophy built on fear and self-doubt.
I’ve lived in many cities for someone my age: Mexico City, Tel Aviv, San Francisco, New York City (both Manhattan, Bronx, and Brooklyn) Paris, and I’ve traveled on my own in Mumbai, London, Venice, Miami, Los Angeles, and many, many others. Every city I’ve gone to I’ve traveled with very little money, many times traveling very late at night and wandering the streets like a beggar, if not as a beggar without much money. For me, these places undid a lot of the intellectual and spiritual rhetoric that had been forced upon me and gave me the space necessary to find my own intellectual and spiritual reality, one that was not constrained by intellectual or social pressure.
However, suffice it to say, I have found that money and a home, a house holding experience, and physical, spiritual, and emotional safety, are not only not things to be ashamed of, but things to be proud of. The ability to eat and sleep without fear of your alcoholic roommate next-door breaking into your room (this happened to me in Brooklyn) or your dirt piled room of the place that you were forced to clean to make 100 dollars because you were out of money (Tel Aviv) taught me that wealth, spiritual and intellectual, is something to respect and value.